The Inside Outside Guys: Which Window Should You Buy?

Photo: David DelPoio / The Providence Journal / USA TODAY

By Ken Calverley and Chuck Breidenstein

DETROIT, June 2, 2022
 ~ They are all the same, right? Framed glass that may or may not open. You can stand on either side and look through to the view beyond.

What could we possibly say about windows that is of any value to homeowners?

When you understand the evolution of windows in home design and cost, there is a lot to consider.

Early homes in this country had no windows. Too costly and too inefficient.

There might have been a narrow, horizontal “rifle slit” on each side covered in hide to allow a view against nature and enemies, but large panes of glass? Unthinkable.

In the 1600s, even the wealthy used glass with discrimination, installing it only in “important” rooms and removing or shuttering it when not in use.

Today, windows may easily account for 15% to 20% of the outside wall surface of a house.

They have become so popular as a design element that the EECCEnergy Efficiency Conservation Code, has sought to limit their use in construction.

Historically, the purpose of windows was to let in light and keep weather and critters out. But energy efficiency has become a big part of the consideration right alongside cost and aesthetics.

While original builder cost of windows and doors may have accounted for 3% to 5% of the total project, replacing those windows is a costly proposition with several considerations attached.

Jeff Weaver, owner of Clarkston Window and Door in Pontiac, asks whether an owner desires a “frame-in” replacement or a full removal and replacement of the old unit? Most replacement window companies will install a new window inside the old window frame.

With mass-produced, standard-sized units, this can result in a reduced glass size and smaller viewing area.

Thus, a first consideration should be whether the units are custom made for each opening. Remember, with a little care, windows today should last 20 to 50 years, and it is common for those we refer to offer a legitimate lifetime warranty that attaches to the house, not the owner.

Another consideration is energy efficiency. The NFRCNational Fenestration and Ratings Council, and Energy Star, both independent third-party groups, provide information specific to energy efficiency concerns.

U-Factor, a measure of how much heat is transferred by an assembly, is a huge consideration. The EECC is implementing a value of 0.30 for windows and doors, which translates to an R value of 3.333. It wasn’t but a few decades ago that single pane glass was the standard and double pane was a “special order.” Today the double pane is standard with options for applied Low-E Films or coatings, inert gas like argon or krypton in between the panes, and “warm-edge” vs “cold edge” technology in the materials that separate the panes.

Frame material in the modern era of the last 150 years has historically been steel or aluminum, both durable and strong and both really good heat transmitters. Higher-end units utilized wood frames, and in combination with exterior cladding of aluminum or vinyl, have been a luxury choice for some. Companies like J&E Installations in Farmington Hills carry two of the more popular wood window brands in Pella and Anderson as well as non-wood options.

In more recent years, fiberglass and high-quality vinyl have been popularized as frame options. Vinyl is the most common window frame material used in this country. Virgin, or first use product, is the premium material used.

Window World in Commerce Township offers a lifetime warranty on their virgin vinyl product, while Performance Remodeling in Shelby Township offers both vinyl and fiberglass units.

Poor quality windows can lose so much heat so quickly that it creates mini drafts in the home near the windows and a bad installation can accelerate that issue by allowing a lot of air leakage around the unit.

And keep in mind that a window that loses heat through the glass in winter will gain a lot of heat in the summer, making it difficult to keep the house cool and rapidly fading wood floors and fabrics.

You should look for a low U value and a low SHGC, Solar Heat Gain Coefficient, which will be a factor of one, averaging around 0.8. Lower is better.

Protective films have proven effective, and a better window may have several. But films can affect what we call Visible Light Transmittance, so ask about the VT rating.

You can feel safe using the window companies the Guys refer and all can be found at InsideOutsideGuys.com.

For housing advice and more, listen to the Inside Outside Guys every Saturday and Sunday on 760 WJR, from 10 a.m. to noon or contact us at InsideOutsideGuys.com.